CTL Distribution recruiter Lisa LaFreniere interviews an applicant at a local unemployment center. The center gives her work space, among other services.
These days, recruiter Lisa LaFreniere’s cell phone rings early and often. On a Tuesday morning in February, the first calls from hopeful truck drivers and technicians started at 7:30. The phone continued to ring during a brief meeting with her boss, CTL Distribution President Ken Bauer. By 9 a.m., job placement workers were calling wanting to know why LaFreniere wasn’t already at their office to interview a waiting pool of applicants.
But LaFreniere’s ring tone is music to her ears. Finding drivers wasn’t always this easy at CTL’s Mulberry, Fla. terminal where the company – one of the 20 largest U.S. tanker fleets – is headquartered.
“Our recruiting strategy used to be ‘advertise and wait for the phone to ring,’ ” LaFreniere says. But the phone didn’t ring enough. And with the Mulberry terminal located on a dead-end road near a phosphate mine, walk-ins were rare. But all that has changed. CTL isn’t waiting for drivers to come to its recruiters. Instead, through an ambitious partnership with Florida’s unemployment offices, CTL is going to its recruits.
The Mulberry terminal now gets 90 to 95 percent of its new drivers through unemployment centers in Polk and surrounding counties. The $55,000 the terminal budgeted for local classified advertising in 2004 now goes to other marketing efforts. Other terminals in Florida also are benefiting, and the company also is finding mechanics and laborers.
The success is due not only to LaFreniere’s efforts but also to dramatic changes in the unemployment process, says Dan McNamee, vice president for capacity development and human resources at CTL Distribution’s parent company, Comcar Industries. “When I began recruiting drivers 16 years ago, the unemployment offices used to be a place where you collected benefits,” McNamee says. “They didn’t help you get a job.”
But all that has changed. The Workforce Investment Act passed by Congress in 1998, along with other legislation, has changed unemployment offices into career centers where the unemployed, the underemployed, veterans and welfare recipients transition into new jobs. Job seekers receive more than a check: They have access to training, education and career counseling.
In Florida where Comcar Industries and CTL Distribution are based, the state’s Agency of Workforce Innovation has 24 career centers called One Stops, where job seekers receive financial and career assistance, meet potential employers and attend job fairs. Businesses use the facilities as recruiting offices and partner with the state to place out-of-work residents into open jobs.
LaFreniere stumbled upon the One Stop centers as a recruiting option because her sister-in-law lost her job. Like McNamee, she figured such centers were where people picked up benefit checks, but her sister-in-law’s experience changed that impression. “She immediately sat down with a career officer who asked her where she wanted to be in 10 years. She found a job within two weeks through them. When we were looking for new ways to recruit drivers, I thought about her.”
When LaFreniere approached the One Stop centers, she wasn’t sure if her gamble would pay off. Things moved slowly at first, but through persistence, she built a solid relationship with the centers’ career counselors. “They’ll call me and tell me to swing by and pick up applications. They’re anxious to place people, and I’m anxious to hire them.”
The new relationship was beneficial for both parties: The centers got an engaged local employer with lots of positions to fill, and CTL got access to out-of-work residents eager to join the work force. CTL also gets a number of other services from the centers, including office space for interviewing, job fairs and pre-employment screening.
“They’re probably better screened than your typical applicant,” McNamee says. “They understand our requirements. They understand the job. The centers are actually allowing us to spend more time with better qualified people.”
CTL Distribution doesn’t often find fully qualified employees who hold commercial driver’s licenses. But the center makes sure job seekers know what kind of job they are applying for and are familiar with the physical and lifestyle demands of a truck driver. And it ensures applicants meet the company’s standards – screening out felons, for example.
The screened pool of applicants is shown a video about CTL Distribution and the job they might fill, including would-be truck technicians. They then meet with LaFreniere or another recruiter for an interview. If hired for a driving position, they go through CTL Distribution’s three-week driving school.
“We’re in a unique position,” LaFreniere says. “Anyone I interview doesn’t have to have a CDL. I can train them and put them to work.”
If a new hire is eligible for unemployment benefits, these continue in most cases during the school period. The state also may help new hires cover transportation or child-care costs during the training period. Once school is completed, new hires begin drawing a paycheck and enter the work force. A year later, if a driver is still with CTL Distribution, the company forgives the cost of their school.
Applicants from the One Stop fall into four basic labor categories: traditional unemployed job seekers, veterans, welfare-to-work applicants and young workers, age 16 to 24. With veteran applicants, CTL Distribution often can find CDL holders or applicants with equipment experience. In fact, the company has built a relationship with the representatives of veterans groups that have offices at the centers. Those representatives steer National Guard and Reserve retirees from transportation companies toward CTL Distribution.
For other applicants in the welfare-to-work pool, the opportunity to drive a truck opens a new door. “They might have had a job before making $6.25 an hour. That’s $12,000 a year. Now they can make over $30,000,” says LaFreniere.
The centers also can steer teenage applicants with an interest and aptitude for mechanics toward the company. “We don’t expect them to have tools, and we don’t expect them to be certified,” LaFreniere says. “But we expect them to work through that.”
There are other benefits to the arrangement. CTL Distribution and its parent company get a public relations bump from employing out-of-work and underemployed Florida residents. Tax credits also are possible, but McNamee says the company isn’t yet chasing those credits because of the man-hours involved with qualifying for them.
The effort is limited largely to CTL Distribution’s Mulberry terminal, even though CTL has 13 terminals in eight states and hauls chemicals and phosphates in 48 states. In the nearby Tampa terminal, conventional recruiting still works. “If they run an ad for drivers, they get inundated,” LaFreniere says. Plus, other recruiters find it hard to believe an unemployment center is a good source for potential drivers – even though most unemployment centers in the country are similar to the One Stop centers in Florida.
Still, LaFreniere and another recruiter working through the program find applicants willing to do over-the-road work at one of Comcar Industries’ five carriers. And drivers hired at CTL Distribution and trained at its school eventually may transfer to over-the-road jobs at sister companies or move to other terminals.
LaFreniere and McNamee concede that getting other recruiters to consider their local unemployment offices is a challenge. “We have to battle the image of an unemployment office,” LaFreniere says. “I’ve even had to re-educate my co-workers. When I tell them what I’m doing at the One Stop centers, they say, ‘You’re going where?’ ”
LaFreniere smiles because she knows drivers are there.
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